It doesn’t matter whether you are in advertising or a creative writing class, you are bound to get hit by a bout of “writer’s block”. Or worse, you could get stuck in a rut of writing the same style of copy for weeks. In either case, you need to know how to jump start your creative battery.
I’m going to teach you five ways that you can get the old think tank rolling again. Some of these tips will be simple to understand and hard to execute, and others vice versa.
These ideas break down like so:
- Balance your time.
- Open your eyes.
- Learn to snowball.
- Stop thinking.
- Seek ideas from outside.
This is not a comprehensive list of all the ways to jump start your brain, but it’s definitely a good place to start. Just pick one to begin with and then move on to others that you start to master the previous methods.
1) Balance Your Time
Stella Adler, the mother of modern acting, once advised all acting students to make sure that they spend one hour outside of the theater doing something productive for every hour that they spend in the theater. This practice would make them better at their craft.
Stella Adler told her students to balance their time out for a couple reasons. One, if someone is spending too much time working and not enough time doing other things, their acting (or in our cases the quality of our creativity) gets stagnant or boring because they will have no new experiences to draw from.
If you are truly trying to get new ideas, then go find something to do with your time. Take a six week course on painting. Join a gym. Try a speed eating challenge. Hike a mountain. Go on a date. Watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Read a book under a tree. Go DO something!
It doesn’t matter what you do to balance your time, as long as you do something. Activity outside of work will rejuvenate your mind and populate it’s crevices with new information. Ideas will be waiting to pop out if you do. This comes into play with tip number three.
2) Open Your Eyes
Quick, without looking, do you know what color socks you are wearing? Do you know what color your boss’s shirt is? No? This could be because you’ve conditioned your eyes not to see anymore.
Your brain is conditioned to label certain information as important and others as irrelevant.
The problem with your brain telling you what is important and what is not is that you have no control of what your brain thinks…currently. It’s throwing away hordes of information that could be critical in trying to learn more about your clients’ underlying needs. You need access to that information.
In order to train your brain to see the things around you, go out to lunch with a coworker that you don’t know as well as you want to and play a game. I call it “People Reading.”
In order to “People Read” all you need is a partner to play with that you don’t know very well at all. Take five minutes to study everything about them like if they double knot or single knot their shoe laces, their posture, their personal bubble size, how focused their eyes are, etc.
After you have your five minutes of study with your partner, try and piece them together like Benedict Cumberbatch does on Sherlock. Then reveal what those clues mean to you to your partner one by one.
Your partner should keep a tally of how many things are right, and then repeat the process for them to give you their clues and you keep track of the correct ones. Whoever gets the more correct guesses wins.
As awkward as it may seem to play this game, I’ve literally had dozens of peers beg me to read them in front of everyone. It’s truly fascinating to the viewer and the people playing. But it’s also exhilarating to be the one reading a person and feeling your brain start to reopen lanes of information that previously had a roadblock in front of them.
You can learn a lot about yourself and other while People Reading. It trains you to actively see the little things about the world around you, because the smallest things about a person can tell you a great deal about who they are. So, it is when you are working on a creative brief for a client. Their smallest details can become large indicators.
This will help you a lot with tip number three as well!
3) Learn to Snowball
The person who invented the wheel did not just wake up one day and say “you know what, I need to make a circle with a hole in it.” He had a problem that he had to solve first. When it comes to finding fresh ideas, identifying the problem is key!
Once you know what problem you are trying to solve then you can gather information on that issue. This creates a database of working knowledge from which I can pull from to make new ideas. That’s easier said than done, though. A lot of the time I can’t think of anything.
How do I get around not having an idea? By creating a really dumb one first.
I do this because ideas—even bad ones—snowball. You find all the flaws in your first idea and then you come up with more ways to make that idea better. You’re combining your original idea with other pieces of knowledge that you have. Then you rinse, wash repeat.
Aaron Sorkin is a fantastic teacher on script writing and talks about this subject specifically in his masterclass.
The hardest part about all of this is getting over your ego and allowing yourself to start to make bad content first. Everyone wants to make the killer ad, book, or movie on the first go. That will NEVER happen! Learn to trust the process and let your ideas snowball on themselves.
It may come that while you are working on one idea, you’ll have an idea for something completely different. This is perfectly fine, that’s exactly what you want! Just make sure to write them all down and come back to them when you have time to.
4) Stop Thinking
When I get an idea for a video that I want to film I do something most people will say is dumb: I stop thinking about it. I log it away in my brain as something that I want to do and then I continue about my day without putting much thought into it. This can give me the best ideas that I’ve ever had.
Forgetting your thoughts may sound counter intuitive for most people, but there is magic that happens. If you are balancing your time (like in step one) the rest of your life then informs those ideas and fleshes them out over time in your subconscious.
I did this specifically with an action film that I made called “The Grinch vs Santa.”
The only way this technique works though is if you give your self sufficient time before the project needs to be finished. I started choreographing “The Grinch vs Santa” two and a half months before I wanted to film.
The next thing I did was limit how long I would work on it at one time.
I worked on creating “The Grinch vs Santa” two or three days a week for 1-2 hours each session. I would highly suggest working on your projects multiple days a weeks but for shorter time periods because it helps your brain to not get stuck in a rut by doing it all in one session.
Allowing time in between working sessions also allowed me to watch more action movies, read books, go to family dinners, and just experience life in a way that informed my action film in a much more rounded way than if I had just written and choreographed the whole thing in one day.
I was really happy with the result.
5) Seek Ideas From the Outside
This one is really easy. Just ask someone else if you can brainstorm some ideas together. They will bring new ideas to the table that you may never have thought of before and then you both can grow together. The work flow for this tip can be very similar to tip number three.
When your partner comes up with an idea that you may not have thought of it starts turning additional wheels in your own mind about how you can solve the problem at hand. Their idea combines with your own ideas, and low and behold, a new thought baby is born.
I completely understand that sometimes you can get very personally invested in a project. Remember though, that the fastest way to get out of a rut to get additional input. If you don’t have time to do any of the first four tips, getting input from another human being is the fastest way to do that.
Getting stuck in a rut is normal for every person in any creative position. The best way to get out of that rut is to give your brain additional input. More input means more resources to pull from, which means more possibilities for ideas.
Try out these five tips of how to get ideas and comment with your results. I always love seeing other people succeed in whatever it is that they undertake to do.
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